WASHINGTON — On Tuesday afternoon, three Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would restrict the protections granted to online platforms by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The legislation, proposed by Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tennessee), Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina) and Roger Wicker (R–Mississippi), would take away the free hand both platforms and user communities have to moderate and take down objectionable content. The bill would restrict those takedowns only to materials platforms have an “objectively reasonable belief” violates a specific law or is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing” or is “promoting self-harm, promoting terrorism, or unlawful”.
The senators crafted the legislation to align with President Donald Trump’s ongoing crusade against any online platform that fact checks or contextualizes his postings.
In May, Trump issued an executive order in direct response to Twitter adding a factual correction to his false tweet about the alleged dangers of mail-in voting. Earlier this summer, the Trump FCC opened a proceeding on an administration proposal seeking to modify Section 230 in response to the president’s order. And at the end of August, Free Press joined several allies in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, asserting that the executive order is unconstitutional.
The new legislation would undermine online platforms’ ability to remove posts containing voter-related disinformation, incitements to violence against racial-justice protesters and claims about false COVID-19 treatments, among other topics. It joins several other legislative proposals designed to chip away at the federal law that shields platforms from legal liability for the material users post online while providing them with the leeway to use efforts “taken in good faith” to moderate content that violates their community standards.
Free Press Action Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:
“Make no mistake: This latest legislation is yet another attempt by President Donald Trump and his congressional allies to bend social-media companies to their political will.
“Like the executive order it mimics, the bill from Senators Blackburn, Graham and Wicker is a naked attempt to silence anyone who attempts to correct or criticize Trump. It’s as blatantly outrageous as it is unconstitutional.
“Section 230 greatly lowers barriers for third-party speech hosted on platforms, large and small. Its provisions are straightforward: An interactive website or service generally will not be subject to publisher liability simply because it hosts third-party content. It also clarifies that these companies have the right to moderate or flag anyone’s content that violates their own policies. The law strikes a balance that allows websites of all sizes and types that host user-generated content to flourish.
“This draconian bill would greatly limit the ability of websites and platforms to set their own standards for their online communities. It would practically require platforms to host content created by racists, sexists, propagandists and trolls. This legislation forces platforms and users to carry much more ‘lawful but awful’ content and keep a door open to those who want to drown the internet in an ocean of disinformation and toxicity.
“Section 230 enables websites and users, regardless of their size, to tend to their own gardens and set standards for the kinds of discourse they allow without having the government peering over their shoulders to determine what actions are based on an ‘objectively reasonable belief.’
“This legislation would end this online diversity, and threaten our fundamental freedoms to speak and associate with whom we choose. Members of Congress would be wise to follow the sound logic of their predecessors who created Section 230 in the first place. A regime of government-mandated speech completely undermines efforts to promote free speech and a diversity of views online. Congress should respect the Constitution and the First Amendment and reject this dangerous attempt to push online platforms into service of all things Trump.”